My church, the United Methodist, has just completed the latest convocation of its General Conference, the top governing body of the Church, in St. Louis. And while it is never without controversy, according to all reports this one might have been the tipping point for the world-wide denomination’s unity over a sticking point that has besieged it for several decades, that of a phrase in its doctrine that reads “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” and the prohibition of same-sex weddings and the ordination of clergy who are “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” that flow from it.
The vote margin on this issue in favor of maintaining the doctrine intact has steadily narrowed over the past 20 years or so and this year the 822 delegates representing over 12 million members again maintained it, but only by the slim margin of 53-47%, a result that included and depended on an overwhelming majority of the 42% of the Church’s membership outside the U. S.
The resolution also included stricter consequences for individual and institutional violations, which have been weak and in need of strengthening in light of the defiance of the current rules. And based on the reaction from the delegates on both sides of this issue, it seems likely that, at long last, there will be a significant transformation of the Church as we have known it for over 250 years. For after all, there is a phrase I believe applies here that I have used before in observing intractable issues of this type–it’s called “systemic misunderstanding”, or the situation that exists when two sides of a question cannot resolve their differences and the solution is not simply the need for more information; there simply is not more to be said. In fact, the leaders of the national evangelical organization Good News are arguing that the differences here between the evangelicals and progressives are irreconcilable and that the best option is an amicable separation. I personally don’t think it will come to that, particularly some “grand bargain” under terms that are “amicable”, but a combination of a myriad of evolving transformative solutions seems inevitable. And, as former Senior Pastor Jim Jackson of Houston’s Chapelwood UMC has just written, “…a new world order is emerging. What will be the shape of the future? I have no idea…We are left with this good news about the future: there is reason for hope, because God is still in control”.
As for my position on the underlying issues in this debate, I am on record a number of times over the years in The Texas Pilgrim and I won’t belabor it here, but the most comprehensive essay on the subject for me was one I wrote in response to a subscriber and his son, who is homosexual. If you’re interested, this response is included in “We’re Missing the Point in the Same Sex Marriage Debate” from the July 2011 edition in the Pilgrim archives on the web site.
david redford says
I am also a Methodist and regret the close defeat of the One Church Plan which would have given each church the right to decide on marrying same sex couples. The polls show that in the US 67% of people favor same sex marriage. Unfortunately about 30% of the Methodist votes at the conference were from Africa where there is a significant homophobia. In some African countries it is against the law to be a homosexual. The obvious answer is to have a Methodist Church USA and let the folks in Africa fly their own kite. I would be a member of a church that would decide to allow gays to marry and I expect you would be in a church that would not allow this but we would be under one umbrella. Our church is going to lose many young people who favor gays by much more that 67%.
My wife(who is a psychologist) and I approach the gay issue by saying that God created left handed people and right handed people just like he created gays and straights. Many years ago people denigrated left handed people and thought they were defective or lesser in some way. The Bible is inclined this way. People tried to convert left handed folks to be right handed. That prejudice is over now. You may believe in conversion therapy for gays, which is not scientifically supported. I see from your July 2011 article that you believe in a genetic predisposition to homosexuality which can be enhanced by culture(bad parenting) or “repelled” or “overcome”. The left handers can become right handers and accepted.
You appear to subscribe to the notion that the purpose of marriage is to procreate and thus God did not intend gays to marry so our institutions should not allow it. Many folks choose to marry and not to have children. Should they have the right to marry? Other couples find that they cannot physically have children. Should they be required to get a divorce? This procreation argument makes no sense.
Gays marrying does not diminish my marriage or your marriage. You speak of gay marriage as an “undersized marriage” allowing gays the benefits without the “covenanted commitments”. You do not explain these commitments but I assume it is the “obligation” to have children.
Regarding Bible interpretation on this subject, I am not a great expert but I do pay attention. Who can rely on Leviticus where practicing gays are considered an abomination and should die. What kind of God or government does this? Jesus said nothing about gays and in my legal world he is the supreme court. If this subject was so important so as to divide churches, he would have spoken. In my legal world Paul would be a secondary authority to Jesus and should not create absolute rules or laws. His statements are subject to debate and he was probably influenced by the foolish statements in Leviticus.. Paul diminished women in the church and the Methodist Church has ignored him on this since women can be preachers.
We have different philosophies and it is popular on the right to call my side “radical”. Name calling seems to be a new fade which Mr Trump enjoys. Yes, I do believe in the civil rights of gays and minorities and would have stood up for left handed people when they were denigrated. Some of my best friends are left handed. Heck, our last president was both black and left handed but the great conservative Charles Krauthammer said Obama had a first rate intellect and first rate temperament. I wish Mr Trump had one of these qualities.
Tim Phillips says
The issue is not sexuality. But, the covenant relationship of marriage created by God between one man, one woman and God. It is further established as the covenant model for the church. Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah is the groom, and the church (collective believers in Yeshua) is His bride. Together through redemption (marriage) we are re-established with Yahweh the Creator God in this covenant relationship. One man, one woman, one God – yet again we see the beauty of our constant Triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
God is always faithful in His covenant and it is the long standing arrogance of man that believes that our pitiful legalistic, moral and self-worshipping sinful nature is superior to God’s infinite wisdom and creative design. It is the father of all lies (Hasatan) that plays to fallen man’s ego that we are equal to or even superior to the Father’s wisdom and plan. Thus, we continue to stumble through time in twisted logic, legalism and psychology to create a new self-centered and self-worshipping world (check out the first and greatest commandment). Corporate religion in and of itself is antithetical to the relationship God seeks in covenant relationship through salvation and sanctification of His lost creation through the precious blood of the Savior the only perfect sacrifice to have lived on earth, as there can be no forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood.
The truly great news is that this current social debate is meaningless and a designed distraction to questions God’s eternal justice, as it is all in His beautifully crafted plan wherein Hasatan will be defeated and the New Jerusalem shall descend we as believing saints will all dwell with the Creator in life everlasting, while the lost shall sadly perish in the lake of fire and live in eternal torment.
The danger in this debate is that through confusion and deception of the covenant relationship far too many will not receive the true gift of salvation through repentance, but will go to churches (religious institutions) that affirm their sinful lifestyle and thereby alleviate the need for redemption through the gift of grace.
At the end of the day the law is the law, and grace is grace, but if we bend and contort the law at the expense of grace we are parties to a horrific crime – the loss of the acceptance of grace and salvation. The wonderful gift that the Creator in His infinite wisdom, as we are truly created in His image, is that He gave us as humans, unlike any other creature on earth is the gift of choice. Choose wisely, as the choice has everlasting consequences. Shalom.
James Windham says
Great post, David, and I’m pleased that you took the time to go to my July 2011 essay, which could have added even more depth if I could have included my correspondent’s comments, which I couldn’t not do in the interest of privacy.
Let me make a few corrections to your assumptions:
1. Donald Trump has nothing to do with this, but it’s amazing how everyone from the left attempts somehow to tie him to every contentious issue.
2. Correct me if I’m missing something, but I don’t think I once mentioned the Bible as a source of my views on this issue. My views on it are grounded in natural law.
3. Your right/left handed analogy is not applicable here; neither is the racial analogy which many want to use. These characteristics are products of nature, not of behavior.
Otherwise, you make some great points. We simply disagree on a few of the basics. But, as I suggest, my evangelical friends may be right–systemic misunderstanding has overwhelmed this issue and maybe an amicable split is the best outcome to be hoped for.
Thanks for responding. JMW